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Short Story Prize

Reader Q&A with Anakana Schofield

As we prepare to unveil the shortlist for the 2013 CBC Short Story Prize, we're asking the readers for the competition what it's like to read hundreds of short stories in search of the best. Author Anakana Schofield talks about why short stories are like logs, how being a reader for the competition was like "having a picnic with the population," and Canadian literature's sense of humour.

Tell us about yourself. Where do you live and what do you write?
I live in Vancouver, BC. I write fiction, essays and criticism. 

What's your day job?
I write many things, including horse-racing news. 

What's your literary street cred?
I am the mother of a teenager who swears like his granny. I don't think I have any street cred. I own 3 hot water bottles—is that hip? Oh and a palm sander. That's my street cred I am a novelist with a palm sander. Also, my novel Malarky was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Pick & was named about 16 Best Books of 2012 type lists. Does that count? 

What are you working on now?
I am working on the British, Irish, Australian, Indian & South African publication of my novel Malarky and a footnote novel to Malarky called Martin-John

I have just finished a public writing project with the PuSh Festival and seven other writers called "Sometimes I think, I can see you" (Mariano Pensotti, Argentina). Interdisciplinary collaboration interests me a great deal. 

What do you like most about the short story as a form?
It reminds me of a log. It has a solidity that's indisputable and the best short story writers lie down and take a nap after writing a sentence. It can take them years to perfect a single story. Respect! I love discovering prose stylists like DM Fraser, Robert Walser; closer to home Anne Fleming and Caroline Adderson are stunning examples of fine short story writers. 

When you’re reading hundreds of stories and trying to choose the most exceptional ones, what are you looking for?
Initially I'm entirely open to whatever any or every text offers me. Sometimes that's not very much, sometimes it's fertile and remarkable. Ultimately I'm waiting on the indisputable. Something that has compacted itself into its own unique artifact. Something between an artifact and a perfect exhale. I'd take either and all sorts of everything in between. For me, to read is to uncover, to interrogate and discover so it's less a case of "looking for" but "rather paying attention to what rises out of the text". 

What are some of the subjects/themes that people are writing about? 
Well there was sometimes surprisingly similar themes and repetition, which was curious in itself and then again there were the stories beaming in from another galaxy altogether. I think one of the recurrent themes was that of being or feeling misunderstood, lost, struggle, ageing, illness, spousal alienation, twenties questioning, which sat beside alien duck invasions and all kinds of conspiracy carry-on. There were some lovely historical, political and local resonances in some of the stories. Also, I appreciated the sense of place in many of the stories especially since they came from so many parts of the country. And humour. I found some stories very funny contrary to these ridiculous assertions from people (often Giller Prize judges!) who decry Canadian literature as humourless. Au contraire. 

It was very fulfilling to swim around in so many Canadian situated stories, told in urban, rural, all kinds of diverse voices—it was like having a picnic with the population. 

Has being a reader for the Short Story Prize changed anything about how you approach your own writing? Would you do anything different if you were to submit to the competition?
I'm not sure being a reader for the Short Story Prize has changed how I approach my writing, but it certainly underscored again to me that if you do not read well, you are unlikely to write well—the two are inextricably linked. 

Also, the sense of compactness that I mentioned earlier: I might not rest until I had the log I was after. That I would go back and do battle again with a story until it settled until it could settle no more. 

Can you describe a couple of the entries that struck you as standouts? 
This is tricky. There were many that came very close to making my short list. I recall some that took risks with the short story form that were impressive. The language was often what lifted a story above another story, where it was clear the writer had an ear for language, for how to put words together. There was one beautiful story about an intense friendship between two women. But the two stories I remember as the strongest were imbued with an intelligence, humour and sense of language that were remarkable. Like I said earlier they had an indisputable quality that each time I reread them reaffirmed itself. 

Visit Anakana Schofield's website: http://anakanaschofield.com.

Photo credit: Ania Szado

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